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Washington redistricting commission debates how to draw new 10th district

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This is the latest in a regular Fix series that focuses on the decennial redistricting process in key states. We call it “Mapping the Future.” The series aims to look forward to how the maps in these states could be drawn and what the best and worst outcomes for each party might be. Today we take on Washington state. (And make sure to check out the previous installments: Texas, Indiana, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, California, Nevada, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Utah, North Carolina , Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan, Louisiana, New Jersey, Colorado, Minnesota, South Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, New York and Arizona.)

Washington’s bipartisan redistricting commission is wrestling with where to put the state’s new 10th congressional district, and the decision it makes will have significant bearing on the politiical future of the state’s most vulnerable member: Republican Dave Reichert.

The commission last month produced four proposals – two from the two Democratic members of the commission and two from the Republican members – and the two sides will soon release one final proposal each. (Yes, that’s a lot of proposals.)

From there, the sides will have to negotiate a compromise that can get at least three of the four commissioners to support it.

We don’t yet know what that compromise will look like, but we do have a good idea about what the final two maps will look like, based on similarities in the initial four proposals.

The two Republicans on the commission – former senator Slade Gorton and former state legislator Tom Huff – are proposing putting the new district, which the state gained thanks to population growth that exceeded the national average, northeast of Seattle, taking in much of growing Snohomish County and stretching up to the Canadian border.

The two Democrats on the commission – former Seattle deputy mayor Tim Ceis and former state House chief clerk Dean Foster – meanwhile, have based the new district in the state capital of Olympia, just southwest of Seattle.

The real-world effects of both of the Republican plans and both of the Democratic plans are pretty similar. The GOP plans make both Reichert’s 8th district east of Seattle and the new district into swing seats, while the Democratic plans make Reichert’s a GOP-leaning district and the new district a Democratic-leaning one.

“Everything else is pretty much same,” said a GOP source watching the situation closely. “They’re not that far off on a lot of stuff.”

The question from here is how a compromise map might take shape. Given that three of the four commissioners have to sign off on the proposal, it seems the final answer will lie somewhere between what the GOP is proposing and what Democrats are proposing. Ah, compromise.

Finding that sweet spot is in the hands of just a few men, literally, so it’s hard to game out the possible outcomes.

What we do know: Republicans feel good about Reichert’s prospects broadly, given that he has survived in a Democratic-leaning district in some very tough years against very well-funded opponents. He gets help in all four proposals, but the question is just how much help he gets.

(Some Republicans think he needs more help, as his constituents have been trending Democratic. And even though Republicans feel good about his reelection prospects, if the 61-year old retires or runs for higher office, it would be a tough seat to defend.)

Democrats, meanwhile, appear happy to trade in their long-frustrating pursuit of Reichert’s seat in order to give themselves a good chance of winning the state’s new congressional district — a win that would maintain their majority in the state’s congressional delegation. (Democrats currently hold five of the state’s nine congressional seats, after freshman Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R) won a seat formerly held by the other side in 2010.)

Herrera Beutler and Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen, who also had a tough race in 2010, will both likely get safer no matter what the final map looks like.

Herrera Beutler’s southern 3rd district loses Democratic-leaning Olympia under all four proposals, and the rest of her district has been drifting towards the GOP. It still would lean only slightly Republican, though, so she could have tough races ahead.

Larsen’s 2nd district, meanwhile, sheds much of GOP-leaning eastern Snohomish County on all of the maps – either to the new district in the GOP proposals or to Reichert in the Democratic proposals.

Under the GOP plans, in fact, Larsen would be very safe because much of his current district comprises the new district.

The rest of that state’s incumbents represent safe areas that will either stay that way or get even safer.

The process is supposed to be completed by Dec. 1, but could last until the end of the year.

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